Review: Dead Boy Cafe (Questors, Studio)

Kevin had drowned in the Loch, and today is the anniversary of his passing. His wife, Janet (Carol Fullilove), and mother, Ruth (Wendy Megeney), run a cafe in the highest part of the town as floods and storms rage.

Janet is plagued with mental instability; Ruth with severe facial scarring and blindness. Into their world of an ancient jukebox, a candle, a radio, and a floor which slips from standard tiles into a suggestion of the water, a young man (Sam Ebner-Landy) enters.

He is both familiar and a stranger, a welcome visitor and a threat. The only other person who enters the cafe during the play is Martin (David Erdos), a policeman who has been seeing Janet on evenings away from his unhappy and unseen wife.

Production image from Dead Boy Cafe

I found myself comparing this play to both Big, Big Sky which played at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs last year, and the film Neither The Sea Nor The Sand. In the former the cafe settting is similar; in the latter, a lost love is in primary focus.

The strength of Grant Corr’s writing is in the backstory and reality he puts into the characters, especially the uneasy relationship between mother and daughter-in-law. They are sometimes warm and loving, often waspish and cruel.

In the arrival of the young man, both women become unsettled and disturbed out of their routine. Janet seeks something she has lost, but will she find it by the final scene?

Production photo from Dead Boy Cafe

Moments of passion and violence are well-handled by director John Davey, with Ray Dunning’s set design filling the whole stage space with pertinent detail. James Connor’s sound design suggests a place which retains its isolation.

All about keeping hope in your heart, yet wanting a little bit more, a “second chance”, Dead Boy Cafe is a strong dramatic piece with lots of details to keep an audience interested, and an excellent cast.

Dead Boy Cafe was at The Questors until 21 May.

Image credit: Evelina Plonyte/Robert Vass.